DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Corvette Racing’s 100th victory in IMSA competition has been coming for more than two years. The team’s last victory came in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April 2018.
Saturday, the iconic American sports car team’s drought finally ended, appropriately enough, on the Fourth of July at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor will go down in the history books as the driver pairing to deliver the milestone victory – also the first for the revolutionary, midengined C8.R race car – in the No. 3 Velocity Yellow machine.
Fuel strategy was the name of the game in the GT Le Mans class at Daytona. And while every car in the class led at one point or another throughout the evening, it was the No. 3 team that hit the strategy just right.
Garcia won the high-speed game of musical chairs by 1.977 seconds ahead of defending WeatherTech Championship GTLM champion Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR-19.
“The engineers spotted very early how close we’d have been with fuel and how early we should start working on that,” Garcia said. “Jordan did a great job and saved a lot there and I saved another one. We didn’t know about the 912. We didn’t know if they could make it or if we were fighting them and the 911.
“We were expecting the Porsche to follow the 4 car (Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin), but we realized it was a fight. As soon as I had an opportunity early in the stint when I knew my tires were good, I waited for Earl to make a little mistake, and because I was able to follow very close I took advantage of that position. After that I worked my way through traffic really, really well.”
It was Taylor’s first GTLM win after moving from his father’s Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi team to the Corvette factory program this season. The significance of the Independence Day victory wasn’t lost on him either.
“It’s obviously very special,” Taylor said. “I was Antonio’s third driver for so many years and we finished second at Sebring, and Petit and Le Mans, and had so many podiums. It’s great to finally get a win with Antonio. And to get a win on the Fourth of July in an American car and being an American driver is pretty sweet.”
Bamber and co-driver Laurens Vanthoor finished second, matching their result from January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. The same can be said for No. 911 Porsche co-drivers Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki, who claimed their second straight third-place trophies in Daytona’s victory lane.
In GT Daytona, Saturday evening belonged to AIM Vasser Sullivan.
The race saw the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz at the top of the leaderboard for nearly the entire duration of the two-hour, 40-minute race. In fact, they led 81 of 87 laps.
Telitz kicked off the superior day for the team by starting from the pole position. He initially qualified second behind the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren 720S, but the McLaren faced a penalty when the car could not participate in the reconnaissance lap before the race, promoting the Lexus to P1 on the grid.
Telitz held steady in tricky, slippery conditions and as Hawksworth took over, the No. 14 Lexus held a double-digit lead at times, but that lead waned as the minutes went by.
Who did they face pressure from? Their teammates, Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo in the No. 12 Lexus, who crossed the line 6.915 seconds behind its sister car at the end of the race.
“Aaron was able to get a jump and got a nice gap on the field,” said Hawksworth. “It was great to see the No. 12 car up with us, but by the time I took over after the stop the track was very dry. Not a puddle on the racing line. Then all I had to do was maintain position and maintain the lead and bring it home. Fortunately the Lexus RC F was working really well. I’m absolutely delighted for myself and the team. Great job to everyone.”
For Bell, the finish capped off quite the adventurous day. Montecalvo qualified third as Bell actually started his day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to commentate the IndyCar Series race for NBC. After the race, he hopped on a private jet with team owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan to fly down to Daytona to compete. However, the flight experienced cabin pressure issues and inclement weather forced them to land in Jacksonville. They completed the hour-and-a-half drive to the World Center of Racing just before the call was made to start engines.
“Frightened is probably accurate,” said Bell of his experience. “We had an issue in the sky, any time the pilot is pulling out the owners manual mid-flight is generally not a good sign. It was one of those things where we could tell even on take-off, your ears, the pressurization was kind of in and out. I could hear the pressurization pump in the back of the plane going. I went up to talk to the pilot and they said ‘We know we are working on it.’ We had to level off at like 12,000 feet while they worked on it. Then they said we’re not going to be able to do this, we have to go back to Indy. I said there is no way, after all the effort put into this, that I’m missing this race.”
It’s a good thing he didn’t.
The 1-2 finish for Lexus is the best performance yet for the team which first joined the WeatherTech Championship GTD class in 2019. The manufacturer’s previous best finish came at the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park last year, when the No. 14 Lexus won the race and Bell and Montecalvo finished third in the No. 12 Lexus.
Finishing third was the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Mario Farnbacher and Matthew McMurry.